It was so cold one runner's soft contact lenses froze halfway through the race.

How cold was it?

It was so cold that the organizers of yesterday's Avon 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) run passed out space blankets before the race began.

This was no joke. Moments before the race started at 9 a.m. yesterday, medical volunteers passed the word that the wind-chill temperature was between 10 and 20 degrees below zero. The band played cruelly on: "Ease on Down the Road."

But there was nothing easy about this road race, except for the way Lorraine Moller, 25, of New Zealand, won it: by a full minute in 1:13.54. "They should have played 'Running on Empty,'" said Laura Dewald of Arlington, who finished seventh.

There were 442 women at the starting line, making this the largest 20-kilometer race for women run in the United States; 350 endurance runners finished. Moller, who described the day as "bloody freezing," was asked what part of it she liked best. "The finish," she replied.

Kiki Sweigart, 29, of Darien, Conn., was second in 1:14.56. Marge Rosasco, 32, of Fallston, Md., was third in 1:15.33.

The three women were even as far as the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) mark. They shared the lead and the wind, which was gusting to 35 miles an hour. The course -- four loops around East Potomac Park, finishing by the statue of the Giant at the tip of Hains Point -- was a giant pain. For part of each of the 3.1-mile loops, the wind was directly in the women's faces; the rest of the time, it was pushing them from behind.

"It's impossible to pace yourself," Sweigart said." "One mile, you're (running) sub-six minutes, the next you're doing eight minutes."

But, Moller said, even breaking the wind for each other was no use. "You have to get so close to get any advantage that it is just a nuisance," she said. "There was no reprieve."

Moller, the sixth fastest women's marathoner ever, passed the 10-kilometer mark in 36:57, a 5:58 pace for a mile. As the leaders cut across Buckeye Drive, Moller pulled slightly ahead. As she make the right turn onto the drive along the protected side of the channel and headed toward the tip, she took off. "The wind blew me in front," said. "I was just freewheeling. I took the lead about the eight-mile mark."

The third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers qualified for a trip to the Avon International Marathon Championship in August in Ottawa. Moller and Sweigart had previously qualified.

Dr. David Brody, the race medical director, said eight or nine people were treated for effects of the cold but that none had suffered from hypothermia. By the end of the race, it had warmed up: it was only zero with the wind-chill factor.